Sex and Gender Roles

  • Sex – a determination of male or female on the basis of a set of socially agreed-upon biological criteria
  • Gender – social distinctions between masculinity and femininity

The Biological Female and Male?

  • Problematizing the sex/gender distinction, and the category of sex itself, is the assertion that our bodies are absolutely separate between female and male
  • Intersexed individuals – those born with ambiguous genitalia (hermaphrodites)

Gender as Socially Constructed

  • Gender relations act as organizing principles in society – they shape and order interactions between women and men; also shape the relative social importance and worth of women and men
  • While there may be dominant constructions of masculinity and femininity, in reality there are multiple masculinities and femininities

Transgender and Transsexual

  • Transgender is often used as an umbrella term for a range of people who do not fit into normative constructions of sex and gender
  • It refers to people who live as then gender they identify themselves as being, with or without sex reassignment procedures
  • Transgendered individuals include: transsexuals, transvestites, intersexed individuals, and those who do not identify themselves as either male of female
  • 1970s and 1980s gave rise to transexualism – became a diagnostic term meaning that it was something which needed to be fixed
  • the term transsexual is meant to describe those individuals who undergo sex reassignment (sex realignment)
  • the terms pre-operative, post-operative, and non-operative refer to whether an individual has undergone or is waiting to undergo sex reassignment surgery
  • some people reject the transsexual label because of its connection to medical discourse; these people instead prefer the terms transman or transwoman
  • transvestites engage in cross-dressing (publicly, privately, or both), they do not necessarily identify as another gender
  • academic field called trans studies – exploring experiences of trans people, asking whether transgender is understood as being part of the LGBT community, exploring the existence of a range of genders, etc…

Dominant Forms of Masculinity and Femininity

  • there is no single form of masculinity and femininity in Western societies, there are culturally dominant forms – these are known as hegemonic masculinity, and emphasized femininity

Hegemonic Masculinity

  • is the normative ideal of masculinity that men are supposed to strive to achieve
  • the notion of hegemony, or dominance, derives from Italian theorist Antonio Gramsci
  • Despite how it sounds, the term actually implies not force, but rather a large measure of consent
  • In North American culture, hegemonic masculinity is associated with the traits of aggressiveness, strength, drive, and ambition
  • Hegemonic masculinity is also associated with whiteness, heterosexuality, and the middle class
  • Homophobia is a central organizing principle of our cultural definition of manhood
    • Is much more than the irrational fear of gay men; it is also the fear that men will unmask other men, emasculate them, and reveal to the world that they do not measure up to the ideal construction of masculinity

Emphasized Femininity

  • Is based on women’s compliance with their subordination to men and is oriented to obliging men’s interests and desires
  • Characteristics include “supportiveness, enthusiasm and sexual attractiveness”
  • Cheerleading is an excellent example of a “performative” emphasized femininity – one that is performed particularly for heterosexual men

Reproducing Gender: Families, Education, and Media


  • Gendered expectations being at birth, after the proclamation of whether a baby is a girl or a boy
  • Parents’ child-rearing practices are deeply gendered
  • For instance, research finds that mothers respond more quickly to the cries of their baby girls than they do to the cries of their baby boys. This speed of response is more likely connected to our ideas about gender and emotion – that girls are more emotional and so its okay for them to cry, whereas boys should not cry
  • Studies also show that parents tend to spend more time talking to little girls, while leaving boys alone; parents punish their sons more often than they do their daughter
  • Girls often receive toys that reinforce the stereotypical role of caretaker, while boys are more likely to have toy cars, video games, and sports equipment
  • Boys act as active and girls act as passive
  • Later, boys and girls take on gendered household tasks at the behest of their parents; boys take out the garbage and shovel the snow while girls do dishes and wash floors
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  • Through a hidden curriculum, girls continue to learn that they are not as important as boys; such learning can affect their self-esteem and occupational aspirations

Student-Teacher Interactions

  • Both male and female teachers tend to interact more with the boys in their classes than they do with girls

The “Chilly” Climate

  • They coined the phrase “chilly climate” to represent women experiences on university campuses
  • Faculty members call on male students more often (even when female students have had their hands raised) and engage more with male students during classroom interactions
  • A group of faculty members from the UWO calling themselves the Chilly Collective published an edition collection called Breaking Anonymity: The Chilly Climate for Women Faculty
  • The impetus for this project was one woman’s experiences during her first year as a member in the Faculty of Law at Queen’s University, where she encountered overt harassment, exclusion, and devaluation of her worth and intellectual capabilities


  • Researchers have understood that depictions of gender in the media have the capacity to

Television Shows

  • Media critics have debated whether strong female characters actually represent progressive roles
  • The actors who star in these shows are beautiful, the characters are all heterosexual and the leading women are white
  • Reality television trend is showering us with normative images of men and women and masculinity and femininity

Television Commercials

  • Consider the ads aired during the Super Bowl, one of television’s most-wanted events
  • Researchers studying these ads found dominant gender themes:
    • Advertisements for alcohol primarily construct men as “losers” who hang out with their male buddies, self-mock, and are ironic about their loser status
    • Male friendships are the centre of most of the ads
    • Men in these ads are not in committed relationships and are always ready to engage in sexual activity with fantasy women
    • The women in these ads are dichotomously depicted either as “hotties” or as “bitches”

Talk Shows

  • “Trashy” talk show have come under much scrutiny for their portrayals of lower-class masculinities and femininities
  • Jerry Springer

Gendered Bodies

  • How we present our bodies, our efforts to shape them, and how we interpret  others’ bodies – these acts are all accomplished socially

Television Programming

  • TLC’s programming schedule contains all shows giving emphasis on improving one’s physical appearance
  • These programs convey the message that moulding one’s appearance to resemble dominant constructions of femininity and masculinity more closely will also lead to a better sense of self
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Plastic Surgery

  • While feminists have long critiqued plastic surgery, arguing that people need to accept their gendered bodies rather than submit to patriarchal concepts of femininity and masculinity, some individuals argue that this form of body modification can be viewed as empowering
  • “Facial and bodily features which are culturally reviled become increasingly contingent: ‘ugliness’ becomes our choice and responsibility”
  • the top cosmetic surgeries in Canada are liposuction, rhinoplasty, and breast augmentation
  • the most common surgeries among women are liposuction, breast augmentation, and surgical facelifts, while men’s most popular surgeries are liposuction, rhinoplasty, and eye lifts

Gender and Work

The Gendered Labour Force

  • while many women choose to work part-time, as much as one third of women working part-time do so because they cannot find full-time work
  • child-rearing and other family responsibilities are most cited as reasons for women’s part-time work

The Gendered Wage Gap

  • women working full-time in full-year employment earned on average 70.5 percent of what men earned
  • wage gap is even greater for university-educated women, who earned only 68 percent of what all men earned in 2005

Families and Unpaid Work

  • why households remain primarily women’s work concerns the imbalance in their economic contribution to the household
  • this argument is the basis for the exchange theory, which suggests that power flows from bringing resources to a relationship

Intersectionality: Gender, Race, and Social Class

  • no person can experience gender without simultaneously experiencing race and class
  • intersectional – the simultaneous influence of multiple social relations, including race, gender, ethnicity, and class

Sociological Approaches to Gender

Functionalist Theory

  • argue that women and men perform separate, specialized, and complementary roles to maintain cohesiveness within families and in wider society
  • men fulfill an instrumental an instrumental role: provide money, food, shelter, and other necessities

Conflict Theory

  • assume that societies are typified by struggles between social groups for scarce resources, including power, wealth, and prestige

Symbolic Interactionism

  • interested in the meanings of male and female and of masculinity and femininity
  • argue that gender is created through social interaction, mainly through the mechanism of role-taking
  • according to this perspective, children learn gender-related behaviours through social institutions such as families, schools, peers, and mass media

Feminist Theory

  • endeavour to identify the ways in which institutionalized and internalized norms limit women’s behaviours and opportunities
  • feminist theorizing is typified by the statement “biology is not destiny”

Post-Structuralist Theory

  • Post-structuralist understand people as positioned within, and produced by, discourse
  • Masculinity and femininity and even sex itself, are socially and discursively constructed
  • Judith Butler (1997) is the key theorist associated with this approach
  • She argues that although feminists reject the idea that biology is destiny, they develop an account of patriarchal culture that assumed that masculine and feminine genders were inevitable

Gender Equality and Social Change

  • We have laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis on gender
  • Overcoming such normative constructions of gender is easier said than done, since gendered ways of being have been institutionalized and continue to be produced through our social interactions

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